Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Summary Care Records - Tattoo Needed?

I have an allergy – a significant one, potentially life threatening, to a drug used commonly in general anesthesia.  This was discovered during surgery as a child.  At the time I was given a small card with the name of the drug.  I don’t know where the card is now.

Fortunately I can remember the name of the drug.  Being a doctor helps.  I could tell anaesthetists about the allergy before operations, and hopefully give them enough time to find a suitable alternative.

That, of course, relies on me being in a fit state to do so.  I’d need to be conscious, need to be thinking straight, need to have a good memory.  The drug has a long name, is hard to spell and relying on family members to recall it in a stressful situation is unrealistic. 

So what are my options?  I could wear (all the time) a bracelet/necklace with the information on.  I’ve looked at the designs available and although I realise their importance I’ve always delayed ordering one.  I rarely wear a watch, and am a reluctant jewellery wearer.  I am wrong, but suspect I am not alone.  I could carry a card in my wallet, but I’m not convinced anyone would search my belongings before surgery.  Please tell me if I am wrong.

My hope, as a potential patient, is that any medication and allergies would be available to the hospital team, in real time.  I have the same concerns as many about the importance of privacy and confidentiality.  But, if we have the ability to improve safety, particularly with prescribing, we should have a duty to share.  Prescribing errors are known to be a significant issue, causing patient harm and longer hospital stays.  Yet they can be reduced.  The ability to share a Summary Care Record is here, and yet we do not yet have a culture where sharing is routine, where clinical teams routinely look for information before making treatment decisions.

An elderly patient, with an acute illness such as sepsis or a longstanding condition such as dementia, will often not be able to share medical details and allergies.  We should not be in a position where even a simple decision such as which painkiller to prescribe is made without a knowledge of potentially life-threatening allergies.  I wouldn’t want to prescribe in that situation, and wouldn’t want to have surgery without the doctor being able to access my Summary Care Record 24 hours a day. 

We are not at the point yet when I have confidence that would happen.  I'm not even sure what my own surgery's position is.  What would my anaesthetist want? 

Perhaps I ought to reconsider a tattoo….

Sunday, 20 October 2013

What He Doesn't Know

She is 85, frightened and confused in her increasingly rare lucid moments.  Her husband struggles to care for her, his days a constant battle of negotiating, reminding, coercing.  They both have an overwhelming sense of frustration.  And guilt.

Their daughter has done well, with a successful career, a family and a large house.  150 miles away.  They've thought of moving but they have always lived in this village, and neither can face a new environment.

The carer comes twice a day, mainly to help with bathing and dressing.  The visits are short, but most days this is the only conversation he can look forward to. Lately the carers change more.  They seem to be quicker, often talking about where they need to be next.  They come at 9am, when his wife is often asleep after her increasingly disturbed nights.  They've been told they can ask for their needs to be reassessed, but they seem so busy and he doesn't like to trouble anyone.

The district nurse used to visit when he had a leg ulcer.  3 times a week.  They asked a lot of questions, seemed genuinely interested in his nutrition and mobility. His wife wasn't 'on their books' but she enjoyed their visits.  His leg ulcer healed 3 months ago, and he 'isn't housebound' so he's been 'discharged.' He is mobile but wishes he could leave the house, but she gets distressed whenever he leaves.  Tesco delivers their shopping now.  The chemist delivers their medication.

The last time he saw his GP was when his wife had her dementia review.  Her blood pressure was fine, she had normal blood tests and showed no signs of depression.  There seemed to be a fixed set of questions to run through.  He had asked about carers and the GP had requested a social care assessment. That was when the carers started coming.  Things were worse now, and he felt less well himself but he'd probably wait and bring it up at the next review.  He wasn't sure when that would be.  He had received a letter offering a flu jab appointment.  He might ask then if he was able to get someone to look after his wife.

Anyway, if there was anything else anyone could do they'd probably have done it.  The carer would have mentioned it, wouldn't they?  Or the district nurse might have expressed her concerns to the GP.  The GP might have called in on his 'rounds'.  Dr Robins would have done, but he retired 10 years ago and he's not sure who the new GPs are now.  When his wife had a water infection recently they'd sorted a prescription over the phone.  There is a practice leaflet but so much seems to be on a practice website nowadays.  Not really much use without a computer.

What he doesn't know is that the carer doesn't know who his GP is either, or which
 practice he is registered with. The district nurse doesn't have access to his full GP record, and hasn't had a face to face conversation about anyone with his GP for 8 months.  The district nurses moved out of the practice into a new 'hub' then, and their new contract means they have a limited number of visits and only to those who are medically housebound.  They aren't on the GP 'radar' because their medications aren't up for review yet, and their QOF reviews aren't due for 4 months.

He's married yet lonely.  They have carers yet aren't truly cared for.  And their story will be familiar to many.

This blog was written to raise awareness and to reflect discussions in the CCG members' meeting where GPs discussed the importance of the primary care team, communication and the lack of engagement with community teams.  This is a key challenge to the CCG and emphasises the importance of the members and the role of the practice/practice team.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The survey. A new way of working?

Yesterday I joined a teleconference finalising the survey which will be used to assess the relationship between CCGs and NHS England, focusing the behaviours experienced.

The survey, organised by NHS Clinical Commissioners, will be available in October and will be completed by CCG chairs, chief officers and chief financial officers.  It comes at a key time.  The first round of 'assurance' reviews and feedback will have taken place, and planning for 2014/15 will be underway.  Has the system moved towards focusing on patients, joint responsibility and the integrated working needed in the new commissioning system?  Have CCGs been given (or felt) the freedom needed to succeed? Have they been given the support to develop beyond authorisation?

It's clear that the survey is welcomed by NHS England and this is key.  Learning Organisations need feedback, and the fact that NHS England and CCGs will undergo assessments moving forward is important.  

As the role of CCGs develops it's increasingly clear that NHS England is just one of the organisations with whom CCGs have a vital partnership, and where a mature relationship is essential.  Health and Wellbeing Boards are becoming increasingly important, and with the implications of the spending review still uncertain CCGs are developing key relationships with local authorities.  

Behaviours and relationships will be crucial if we are all to keep our focus on population health and joint working.  The survey is an important starting point.  A collective CCG voice and feedback is key to this. 

Sunday, 8 September 2013

A&E and GP Access

Another week of headlines.

Millions 'wrongly attending' A&E.  GP access needs to improve.  GPs could do more to ease the burden on hospitals. 

'Winter is coming.'

So what would happen if a practice opened the doors and allowed walk in access to its patients for urgent conditions? No triage. No need to ring.  Partners and nurse practitioners  working as a team, average wait 30 minutes.  The ability to phone if you want to speak to someone.

This is my practice.  The model has been described in another blog: http://clinicalcommissioning.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/opening-doors.html?m=1

The practice

We have a large practice, across 4 sites, looking after over 27,000 patients.  14 partners, 3 nurse practitioners.  Separate entrances and waiting rooms for the urgent care service, based at the main site with 15,500 patients.  We have just started a walk in service at one of the branch surgeries this summer.  We have tried most systems over the years including telephone triage and traditional on call models.  There is no additional contract for the service, its simply our model for our patients.

The main site is a few hundred yards from A&E.  There are areas of significant deprivation and high levels of chronic disease, obesity and substance misuse including alcohol.

We have partners with a high level of training and experience in a number of areas including dermatology, orthopaedics, palliative care, substance misuse, diabetes, ophthalmology and ENT.

The effect on the practice staff

The service (known as LUCS Larwood Urgent Care Service) has been extremely popular. Routine surgeries are no longer overbooked and receptionists now have no frustration finding appointments for patients wanting to be seen urgently. 

Staff work extremely hard, and are proud of the service they help deliver.

Attendance levels

We opened the service in November 2010 - at the start of a flu epidemic.  We coped well with up to 140 contacts per session that winter.  As the service has become established we have more stable numbers attending, less inappropriate use and numbers have dropped slightly from 24,000 per year in 2010/11 and 11/12.

We are able to predict attendance numbers and adjust staffing levels with higher numbers attending on Monday, Tuesday and Fridays.

Patient satisfaction levels are high, and we have seen and diagnosed a significant amount of serious illnesses in the walk in service.  Patients are asked their main problem as they attend to ensure they do not have symptoms of a myocardial infarction or a stroke.

A&E attendances

The practice is situated next to A&E and has a high level of morbidity and deprivation.  A&E attendance is therefore higher than most other practices in the CCG with more rural locations.  A&E attendance overall has reduced slightly, but less than we expected with a difference of 2-3%.  We have seen an increase in complex conditions in A&E and a reduction in minor illness attendances requiring no investigations.

2012 Attendances By Day (in-hours)

2012 Attendances by Month (in-hours)

Add caption

Pressure on appointments

Routine surgeries now have no extras, and visits seem to have reduced due to the ability to be seen quickly at the surgery.  There is still a pressure on appointments and we continue to work on this.  We see a lot of patients, do extended hours and have a large team of highly trained nursing staff.  The service has improved the efficiency of the practice and for a large urban practice the ability to separate acute and planned care has undoubtedly been beneficial.

Wasted appointments

Despite enabling online booking and texting reminders to patients before appointments we had just under 10,000 appointments wasted last year due to DNAs.  We are working with the patient group and local media in an attempt to reduce this.


There are many reasons why the walk-in service is better for the staff and our patients.  Reducing A&E attendance was not a key driver in an area where inequalities are significant and comorbidities common.  Reducing inappropriate A&E attendance was a driver, and we have had some success with this.

Patients attend A&E inappropriately for many reasons.  Primary care access may be one, but deprivation, family culture, free prescriptions and distance from A&E are key factors.  We know that the frequent attenders at A&E have mainly alcohol or mental health problems, and it is essential that practices and CCGs ensure services are commissioned to deal with these problems in an appropriate setting. 

There is little evidence that we can prevent inappropriate A&E attendance through education.  We should focus on making A&E safe, focus on staffing and pathways, and look to integrate services (including primary care) where possible. 

Blaming GPs for not doing enough, or patients for attending, is not the answer. 

Tuesday, 16 July 2013


Two recent events have persuaded me to write this blog.

1.  A patient recently asked me which doctor at the hospital she should see.  I replied they were all fine, that hers was a routine operation.
But which one, she asked, would listen.  How would she know?  She'd had a bad experience with a consultation in outpatients the year before, and didn't want to repeat it.  What did patients and colleagues think of the consultants in that department?

2.  We discussed the role of the CCG in improving primary care quality recently.  We agreed that the CCG had a unique opportunity, as a membership organisation, to promote transparency, increased peer review, open discussion regarding local services.  

So, on a personal level, I've decided to publish my scores from my revalidation survey.  Thousands of doctors have been revalidated so far.  Would it help patients if results were public?  At least discussed within practices or departments. No doubt there will be those who argue for and against.  Popularity isn't the same as quality.  It is by no means a perfect system.  But there's an opportunity to increase transparency, to publish both peer and patient feedback, and it's at least a debate worth having.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Running Costs

As well as a £3.8bn transfer of commissioning money to local authorities, the Spending Review has brought with it a c10% reduction in NHS administration costs.  This is significant for CCGs, providers and patients.

CCG life is getting busier.  We have an ever increasing need for quality assurance, are completing new pathways and leading urgent and integrated care boards with partners.

We have significant public engagement and are active members of Health and Wellbeing boards.  We meet regularly with providers, local clinicians and (of course) report regularly to NHS England area teams.

We are responsible for commissioning budgets which effectively reduce over time with a need to make significant efficiencies - and we are expected to improve quality across primary, secondary and community care. 

I remain optimistic.  Clinical involvement in commissioning is delivering. 

But we need to be realistic about resources.  The £25 running cost is already too blunt a tool, not taking into account size of organisation or local health needs.  The commissioning system has already lost a significant number of experienced staff and is more fragmented.  CCGs are already incredibly lean.  Discretionary effort is part of the job description.  There’s a point where a lean organization becomes an ineffective one.  Patients, and the NHS, needs CCGs to succeed.  

A cut to running costs will make some unsustainable.

CCGs are part of the front line, developing new services, walking the wards and reviewing vulnerable patients in nursing homes.  Their strength is their level of clinical engagement and local knowledge.  Some suggest mergers as the answer. Their size is determined by local patient flows, by local authority boundaries, by consultation with members and patients.  Did large PCTs perform better than smaller ones after their reorganisation? 

Commissioning needs to be local, proactive and patient focused.  Primary care is already feeling the effect of a more fragmented, transactional approach to its own commissioning.  Regulation is important but is not the answer to many of the problems facing the NHS. 

Let’s get commissioners and providers talking, resource them both to do so, and deliver the rewards in efficiency and service quality.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Holding Course

2 months after major reforms, and the official birth date of clinical commissioning, there's a debate about the role of CCGs.  Whilst not unexpected, it does seem premature.

A Foundation Trust Chief Executive told me last week that clinical commissioning was the best thing to happen during his time in the NHS.  The increased level of clinical conversations, the focus on patients had helped his organisation and was a welcome change.  

So is now really the time for a change in direction?  Is the agenda different?  Undoubtedly there is a need for integration, for joint working with social care.  But this isn't new.  There is a need to understand the impact of conflicts of interest, but it's difficult to think of any organisation with no conflict whether political or as a provider of services.  

The goal of integration does not need a mandatory change of commissioning responsibility or NHS budgets, but a change in working and behaviour.

CCGs across the country are working to achieve integration and are working in partnership with local authorities.  Health and Wellbeing Boards are now established, but are not tested by an authorisation process and vary in membership and readiness to govern.  Some have had significant turnover in membership and political ideology following local elections.  

The NHS needed to change.  Now is the time to give clinical commissioning some time, the space it needs to succeed.  I'm confident it can, but we need to retain the sense of clinical responsibility for our patients, to continuously improve outcomes.  This won't come from advisory roles.  We have a real opportunity to change the way clinicians and managers view the NHS and its outcomes for patients.  Responsibility is key.

Apparently less than a third of people are aware there has been a major NHS reform.  Their focus is on provision, on their local services.  Satisfaction in the NHS remains high.  Changing commissioning roles too early may weaken the NHS and is unlikely to be of significant political benefit.

We are very much aware of the importance of time as clinicians, of giving treatments the opportunity to work.  Let's do the same with the NHS.